How to Balance Your Omega-3 and Omega-6 Intake for Allergy Season
It is widely believed in the nutrition field that there was once a time when we consumed a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, in today’s world this is not the case. We now consume 2-3 times more pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and this is a problem. This imbalance in our diets may explain the rise of allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases, all of which are believed to stem from increased inflammation and an imbalanced immune system. Balancing daily intake of omega-3 versus omega-6 fatty acids has been shown to be especially important in the overall treatment of allergies.
Why it’s Critical to Balance Your Omegas for Allergies
Omega-3 and omega-6 are both known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and play a major role in our immune system. The hormones constructed from the two classes of essential fatty acids have opposite effects. Those from Omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation, blood clotting and cell proliferation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those same functions.
While it seems like you wouldn’t want to have the former at all, keeping a balance between pro-inflammatory processes and anti-inflammatory processes is actually extremely important for a healthy immune system! An optimally functioning immune system is one that is able to activate to fight off “foreign invaders” and pathogens when needed, but also lay low when not needed. When a microbe enters the body and the immune system needs to kill it, it is the pro-inflammatory cytokines (derived from omega-6s) that are responsible for allowing the body to do so. In contrast, when a benign substance such as pollen enters the body and there are too many pro-inflammatory cytokines and not enough anti-inflammatory cytokines (derived from omega-3s) problems arise and usually in the form of an allergic reaction. Hence, someone suffering from allergies is an example of a person whose immune system that does not know how to lay low! When omega-3s and omega-6s are consumed in a healthy balance, the immune system can do its job properly.
How Too Much Omega-6 Sneaks Into Your Diet, and How You Eat More Omega-3
The modern diet is abundant with sources of omega-6 fatty acids. They are found in poultry, eggs, whole grain breads, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. Processed foods contain an extremely high amount of omega-6 fatty acids due to the overuse of refined vegetable oils.
Conversely, there are only a few dietary sources of omega-3s. The two critical types of omega-3 fatty acids that the body needs are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). The primary source of EPA and DHA is fat from cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. Walnuts and flaxseeds are another good source of omega-3s as these contain a precursor omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). When ALA is consumed, the body converts it to EPA or DHA. Cutting out processed foods and increasing cold-water fish consumption is a good way to balance your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and protect yourself from developing allergies.
If you already suffer from allergies, supplementing with extra EPA and DHA from fish oil or krill oil can help reset your immune system and reduce allergic reactions.
Need more guidance on certain foods? The chart below is an excellent graphic from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition.
Dr. Passero completed four years of post-graduate medical education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon after receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado. Dr. Passero has trained with some of the nation’s leading doctors in the field of natural medicine. In his practice, Dr. Passero focuses on restoring harmony to both the body and mind using advanced protocols that incorporate herbal therapy, homeopathy, vitamin therapy and nutritional programs. Through education and guidance patients are able to unlock the natural healing power contained within each one of us. For more information, visit his website, Green Healing Wellness, or follow him on Facebook.